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Banks team up to tackle scammers in landmark Accord

08:00am November 24 2023

Banks will collaborate on a range of initiatives to protect customers under the Scam-Safe Accord. (Getty)

Australia’s banks have joined forces in an industry-first Scam-Safe Accord to enhance protection for customers against scams.

The collaboration, led through the Australian Banking Association and Customer Owned Banking Association, lays out six initiatives to improve safeguards, as the industry ramps up its efforts to combat scams which cost Australians more than $3 billion in 2022, according to the ACCC. 

“The Accord is a significant step forward in making Australia a hard target for scammers,” said Chris Whittingham, Westpac general manager, financial crime and fraud prevention. “Cracking the problem through industry collaboration ensures we’re combatting sophisticated scammers more effectively.”  

The centrepiece of the Accord is an industry commitment to invest in a new confirmation-of-payee system which will be rolled out across all Australian banks, credit unions and building societies. Confirmation of payee will give people a better idea of who they are dealing with, in turn helping to reduce scams. 

The other key initiatives are:

• Biometric checks – such as Face ID on smartphones - to prevent misuse of bank accounts 

• Warnings and payment delays to alert customers to potential scam payments

• A major expansion of intelligence sharing across the sector

• Limiting payments to high-risk channels – including blocking some digital currency exchanges with high scam rates 

• Implementing an Anti-Scams Strategy

Scams have grown in volume and sophistication in recent years as bad actors take advantage of evolving technology. Among the most common types of scams are identity fraud, online shopping fraud, and investment scams

Whittingham said Westpac had already begun rolling out protections across all six initiatives with additional measures to follow in the coming months, including enhanced account name checking capabilities through its Westpac Verify feature.

Westpac will also soon become the first Australian bank to implement real-time payment prompts. This will present customers with a series of dynamic questions if the bank suspects a first-time transfer to a new payee has high scam potential. 

The bank’s investment in scam detection and prevention measures helped save customers $235 million in the last year with a detection rate of over 60 per cent. 

Yet while banks have prevented and recovered more than $600 million in stolen funds over the last year, they are still only one link in the chain, Whittingham said.

“We need to think about how we apply the same level of protection to every mobile phone, every web browser and every social media page in the country to be as effective as possible and ensure Australia is a hard target for scammers.”

To achieve that, cross-industry collaboration is essential to stay one step ahead of these sophisticated criminals as part of a co-ordinated eco-system, he added. 

James Thornhill was appointed as editor of Westpac Wire in May 2022. Prior to joining the bank, he was a business and financial journalist with more than two decades of experience with international newswires. Most recently, he was a resources correspondent for Bloomberg, covering the mining and energy sectors, and previously reported on a broad range of topics from economics and politics to currency and bond markets. Originally from the UK, he’s had stints working in London, New York and Singapore, but is now happily settled in Sydney.

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